Yanagisawa Nana: Production and Consumption of Salt and the Ritsuryō Tax System

Production and Consumption of Salt and the Ritsuryō Tax System 塩の生産・消費と律令税制
YANAGISAWA NanaJapan Society for the Promotion of Science Postdoctoral Fellow Meiji University 柳沢 菜々

Salt is a nutrient essential to human life. As rock salt is difficult to procure in the Japanese archipelago, in ancient times the prevailing system of salt production was to boil down seawater in clay pots to draw out the salt. This presentation focuses on salt production and consumption, and in the process I will also note the special characteristics of the economic foundations of the eighth-century tennō and nobility, as well as the ritsuryō tax system.

    In the ritsuryō system, salt was one of the goods collected as tribute (chō). In the Heijō palace and capital ruins, we have found large numbers of wooden slips (mokkan) evidencing goods that were shipped to the capital, and these show that salt was an important tribute good. Many of those wooden tags show that salt was shipped from Wakasa and Suō provinces. However, many clay pots used for salt production that have been found in the Heijō capital are from the Bi-san Seto Inland Sea region (Bizen, Bitchû, Bingo, Sanuki) or from the Osaka Bay area. These were not provinces mandated to provide salt as a tribute item.

In other words, some types of salt brought to Heijō capital were transported with a packaging slip attached, but others were not. Specifically salt that came affixed with a packaging tag was collected and sent as a tax good. Wakasa province was extremely small, but it put tremendous efforts into producing salt to be collected for tribute goods. Furthermore I hypothesize that the Takahashi family, that was traditionally responsible for conducting the religious rites associated with the tennō’s dining needs, had strong ties to Wakasa province. Other provinces that, similar to Wakasa, were small, also had deep connections with the Takahashi, and were characterized by their production of tribute goods. They were Shima, Awa (near Tokyo Bay), and Izu. Their residents gathered seaweed, abalone, and wrasses as tribute. Salt, seaweed, abalone, and wrasses were all important offerings for religious rites. The tennō gathered tribute goods from the entire country to be used as offerings for the religious rites he performed to demonstrate his rulership. Salt gathered as a tribute good in Wakasa symbolically showed the tennō’s reign over the area, and the production process was meant to do just such.

The second-largest numbers of packaging tags, those denoting Suō salt, were all unearthed at the residence of Prince Nagaya, and they are thought to have been affixed to offerings presented from Prince Nagaya’s sustenance residence units (fuko). Since such offerings were brought to the capital as tribute goods, they had tags affixed. At Prince Nagaya’s residence, the salt gathered as tribute from sustenance households was consumed—in other words, royals and nobles obtained their salt from sustenance residence units.

    On the other hand, the salt transported without tags from Osaka Bay environs and elsewhere was handled differently than were ritsuryō taxes. Nobles and major temples were proprietors of regions in the mountains that provided fuel (firewood) for the production of salt, and they managed locations for salt production separate from sustenance residence units.

    From this outline of eighth-century salt production and consumption, the following points are notable. Under the ritsuryō system, the sustenance residence units that were the economic foundation of the nobility carried on a proprietary system that preexisted the ritsuryô codes. But the management of that earlier system was folded into the activities of provincial governors, and after tribute goods were collected as taxes and sent to the capital, the governors were charged with seeing that the requisite offerings were distributed to each sustenance unit proprietor.

The basic principle of the tribute collection system was to procure offerings for religious rites that would demonstrate support for the tennō.  Wakasa, Shima, and other provinces that collected tribute offerings played a special symbolic role, one of which they were very conscious. Also residents of sustenance residence units paid tribute as subjects of the tennō, while the ô provided for aristocrats by giving them tribute offerings. Such practices visualized and elaborated the ideology of the ritsuryō state that placed the tennō at the pinnacle of its organization. One caveat, however: we need to remember that the aristocracy had long managed landholdings separately from sustenance residence units, and such landholdings were not entirely folded into the ritsuryō system.

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